A mosaic novel about a dinner party that takes a catastrophic turn
Amsterdam, January 2015, the eve of a major protest march in response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Eight friends and family members are dining together. Subtle, telling descriptions reveal the tensions between the people at the table, exploring the fabric of today’s multicultural European society.
A dinner party in a fashionable house – but beneath the veneer of warmth and hospi tality, trouble is brewing. Short chapters, each one named after the person whose perspective it describes, shed light on the true relationships and frictions between the characters.
The arrogant stockbroker Paul is ashamed of his sensitive brother, the park keeper Philip, and vice versa. Manon, Paul’s ex-wife, teaches at a university on the verge of a student uprising, and their twelve-year-old daughter Liv is being teased in her class’s online chat group.
Mohammed, Manon’s new flame, is assumed to be a Muslim by the people around him, even though he’s non-religious. And then there’s Justus, a teacher with a habit of jumping into bed with his students – men and women alike – and who, in a drunken haze, climbs under the covers with Liv. When they’re found there, the ensuing fight brings the group’s suppressed conflicts to the surface.
All the characters are struggling to find their way in today’s multicultural society. Peace-loving Manon is accused of racism when she asks Liv’s headmaster to talk to the bullies in the school chat group, ‘and it just so happens they all come from immigrant families’. Her student Besma doesn’t feel welcome among the student activists, as a Muslim with a headscarf, but decides to join their protest anyway. Paul feels abandoned by his Somali girlfriend Ablah, who has always been a fierce opponent of Islam but won’t take part in the Charlie Hebdo march.
Who Knows offers a fascinating slice of contemporary urban life. All the characters wrestle with issues like social status, identity, prejudice and the desire to belong. Loontjens adeptly shows how people who live together often fail to understand each other, yet still feel connected.